Year-round daylight saving time may prove to be less popular than you think

Photo (cc) 2018 by Phil Norton

Now that we appear to be on the verge of adopting daylight saving time year-round, we are finally starting to see some long-overdue pushback.

In The Boston Globe, reporters Gal Tziperman Lotan and Sarah Fatima quote experts who say that although we should stop moving the clocks forward and back twice a year, we should settle on standard time rather than daylight time. The reason: sunrise that can come to Boston as late as 8:15 a.m. during the darkest weeks of the year is far more harmful to us than sunset at 4:15 p.m. They quote Charles Czeisler, a sleep expert at Brigham and Women’s, as saying:

In their zeal to prevent the annual switch, the Senate has unfortunately chosen the wrong time to stabilize onto. What the Senate passed yesterday would require all Americans to start their work and school an hour earlier than they usually do, and that’s particularly difficult to do in the winter, when the sun is rising later.

Czeisler is right — but do we really want to give up those glorious 8:30 p.m. sunsets in the summer, with the light lasting until after 9 for a few weeks? I sure don’t.

So is year-round daylight saving time the way to go? We’ve tried it before — and it quickly proved to be unpopular. In 1973, the federal government adopted a measure to abolish standard time in order to deal with an oil shortage. Andrew Beaujon of Washingtonian magazine writes that the sight of children walking to school in the dark led to quick repeal of the measure:

The early-morning darkness quickly proved dangerous for children: A 6-year-old Alexandria girl was struck by a car on her way to Polk Elementary School on January 7; the accident broke her leg. Two Prince George’s County students were hurt in February. In the weeks after the change, eight Florida kids were killed in traffic accidents. Florida’s governor, Reubin Askew, asked for Congress to repeal the measure. “It’s time to recognize that we may well have made a mistake,” US Senator Dick Clark of Iowa said during a speech in Congress on January 28, 1974. In the Washington area, some schools delayed their start times until the sun caught up with the clock.

In fact, Beaujon found, the increase in the number of fatalities was statistically insignificant, and we really did save a whole lot of energy. But the larger point stands. More sunlight in the afternoon sounds like a good idea until people see what it looks like when they wake up in the morning.

The Senate unanimously passed a permanent daylight saving bill on Wednesday, delighting long-time proponents such as U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, sponsor of the Sunshine Protection Act. The very name suggests that Markey is not a morning person. We’ll see whether it becomes law, or if it stalls once it reaches the House.

There are only so many hours of sunlight available. Some people may not like moving the clocks back and forth, but it’s probably the best of all options.